Unity required, even at the top

In the past couple weeks Congress put together and adopted several bipartisan acts to help Americans through the coronavirus crisis. The accomplishment showed what can be done when elected officials put partisanship aside for the greater good.

In this case, the biggest and most expensive good was a $2.2 trillion (with a “t”) appropriation for health care institutions, businesses, state and local governments, and individuals, designed to spread the largess where it’s needed most.

The bill passed the Senate 96-0.

The reason it wasn’t 100-0 is because a handful of senators were isolating themselves because of COVID-19, the disease brought on by the novel coronavirus. They probably won’t be the only members of Congress to do so before the infestation ends.

In the House, the bill passed by an overwhelming voice vote.

It was a challenge to get enough House members together for the vote, because the House had adjourned earlier, and most members were back home. But enough of them returned to Washington to make a voice vote possible. 

The bill had emerged after five days of intense negotiations among the parties, which included the Trump administration. No doubt both parties expected it would be honored in its particulars after the president signed it, which he did upon its passage. It looked as if everyone was on the same page for once.

Then the president pulled the football back just as it was to be kicked off.

Among the bill’s provisions is a $500 billion fund, amounting to nearly one-quarter of the entire appropriation, for corporations economically damaged by the pandemic. Congressional Democrats in the negotiations demanded, and got, agreement for the appointment of a special inspector general to review and investigate loan decisions made from that fund by the secretary of the Treasury.

The provision requires the inspector general to notify Congress if any information about the use of those funds is “unreasonably refused or not provided” to him.

Trump refused to agree to that requirement.

He issued a “signing statement” shortly after putting his signature on the bill, stating that he will decide when and whether the inspector general will report information on the corporation loan fund to Congress.

(Signing statements are made by presidents because the Supreme Court has declared that line item vetoes are unconstitutional. To my knowledge, signing statements, which accomplish the same thing as line item vetoes would, have not been brought before the high court.)

The bill also requires several administrative departments to consult with Congress before they spend or reallocate certain funds. Trump’s signing statement says those provisions “are impermissible forms of congressional aggrandizement.” 

Sounds as if he won’t honor that part of the carefully negotiated act either. He apparently claims he has the final say on those funds, too.

Congressional Democrats conditioned their support of the corporation loan fund portion of the bill on the oversight provisions they demanded and received.

Trump’s signing statement divides Washington just at the point that unity is required. Republicans have been silent regarding his action, and Democrats are deciding what if anything will be their response.

We need governmental cooperation more than ever right now. 

It was probably too much to hope that Trump would get on board with a unanimous Congress.

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